MN Public Loses Rights in Health Powers Conference Committee

St. Paul, Minnesota - Fundamental citizen rights were voted away in today's conference committee hearing on the Minnesota Emergency Health Powers Act. The bill was approved subject to final review by the conferees. The full Senate and House must vote on the bill before it is sent to the Governor.

FIRST RIGHT: The first right to go was the right of the public to testify on the proposed legislation. Rep. Richard Mulder (R-Ivanhoe), chair of the committee and author of the bill (HF 3031), began the third hearing of the Conference Committee by saying public testimony would not be taken. It had not been allowed in the first hearing, but in the second hearing, thanks to the insistence of Rep. Lynda Boudreau (R-Faribault), the public was given permission to testify.

Rep. Boudreau, who is not a member of the conference committee, came to the second hearing where she stood up in the audience and told committee members that public testimony should be allowed. However, only one member of the public managed to testify before the hearing was adjourned. And although Senator Hottinger's (D-Mankato) office took the names of others who wanted to testify, no testimony was allowed today. Rep. Boudreau did not attend today's hearing.

SECOND RIGHT: The committee voted to limit due process rights all year long. No bioterrorism event or declaration of a public health emergency is required. Only Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) opposed the provision. Health officials will be authorized to quarantine or isolate individuals without notice or court order. A court order is not required until 48 hours later.

Ken Peterson, from the Office of the Attorney General, had testified for more individual rights. He suggested limiting the health department's authority to 24 hours without a court order, or if persons can be detained for 72 hours- the original language-an exparte court order should not be allowed. (In an exparte order, only a health official comes before a judge. The detainee is not in attendance and cannot contest the order until 72 hours after a copy of the order is received)

"On the mere suspicious of illness, citizens can be plucked off the street without notice or judicial review. The threat of quarantine can be used to coerce citizens into submitting to examinations, testing, treatment and vaccination. This violates the constitutional rights of individuals and greatly expands the power of state officials over law-abiding citizens," says Twila Brase, president of Citizens' Council on Health Care, a Minnesota-based health care policy organization.

"The Health Department will have ongoing police power. Individual freedom can be taken away at the whim of a health official. All citizens will be vulnerable to discrimination and detention, coercive power, and state intimidation," adds Brase.